Do you find yourself pulling away from others, especially if you've experienced a crisis or deep disappointment? Maybe the most difficult thing we can do is to be with people when we don't feel like being around anybody. We need other people and we'll never thrive as human beings in isolation.
One woman likes to say, "Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you cry with your girlfriends." The presumption is that men are not empathetic, and there is probably some truth there.
But I meet with a small group of men that challenge that assertion. We meet for one reason only - to support each other in our life journeys. We ask embarrassing questions like, "How is it with your soul?" And, "How are you REALLY doing?" We try to answer honestly and to share what is good in our lives, but also relate what is not going well. Where possible, we try to admit our failings in a situation as well as what we think we may be doing right. We use each other for a reality check, for support and, of course, for friendship.
It's the only group in my life where I can be totally honest and know that they will accept me anyway. We meet only to listen to each other, support one another and, if need be, to occasionally challenge one another. The point is - we need each other.
A man who lost his wife to cancer found himself wanting to be alone. In time he dropped out of his worshiping community and curtailed all of the activities he and his wife had shared for so many years.
He increasingly kept to himself. He quit socializing at work and returned straight home to an empty house. He turned down invitations from friends and co-workers. His leisure time was now spent watching television or working in his shop in the basement.
His contact with people dwindled until friends became alarmed that he might live out his life as a recluse. One came by to visit and to invite him over for supper the next evening. The two old friends sat in comfortable chairs by a warm fireplace. The visitor extended the dinner invitation and encouraged him to come. "You may need to allow others to share your pain."
The man responded that he figured he was better off without being around other people. After all, others only seemed to remind him of all he had lost. "And besides," he said, "it's just too difficult to get out anymore."
They sat in silence for a while, watching the wood burn in the fireplace. Then the visitor did an unusual thing. He took tongs from a rack by the fireplace, reached into the fire, pulled out a flaming ember and laid it down by itself on the hearth. "That's you," he said. The men sat in silence watching the red-hot ember. It slowly lost its glow. Neither man looked away as the once-hot coal gradually transformed into a crusty, black lump. After some moments, the widower turned to his companion and said, "I get the message, my friend. I'll be over tomorrow evening."
We cannot survive in any healthy way by ourselves. The leaf needs the branch. The branch needs the trunk. The trunk needs the roots. And the roots need the rest of the tree. We are connected. And in that connection we find life and vitality.